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Working with Students with Disabilities at Penn State

Suggestions for Faculty, an Overview

The purpose of this publication is to provide faculty and instructors at Penn State general guidelines for classroom academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services for students with disabilities. The need for academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services can range from a need to change the presentation of materials during a lecture, wearing a microphone for an amplification system to be used by the student, to providing different ways for the student to respond to exam questions. The underlying purpose of these adjustments is to enable students to be evaluated on the basis of their abilities, not their disabilities, as well as provide equal access to information in the classroom.

Reasonable Accommodations and Academic Adjustments

A frequently used term when working with a student with a disability is a reasonable academic adjustment. A reasonable academic adjustment is an academic adjustment that minimizes or eliminates the impact of a disability, allowing the individual to gain equal access and have an equal opportunity to participate in the University's courses, programs, services, activities, and facilities.

Title II of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 dictates that an institution must provide reasonable academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and/or services for those individuals with a qualified disability who self identify. To determine reasonable adjustments, auxiliary aids and/or services, Student Disability Resources (SDR) at University Park or the Campus Disability Coordinator at other Penn State campuses will accept current documentation of the student's disorder/impairment as well as information from appropriate University personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, activities, and facilities. A reasonable academic adjustment is one that does not require a substantial change in the curriculum or alteration of any essential elements or functions of the course, program, service, or activity. Academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services are determined on a case-by-case basis and course-by-course basis.

Providing academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services is not as ominous as it may sound, and not all students with disabilities require adaptations or adjustments. Adaptations may result in only minor revisions or changes, or may require a search for a mutually satisfactory solution for the instructor and the student. Auxiliary aids and services are most likely paid for by the SDR.

Needs vary among individuals with the same disability, therefore, suggestions represent only general guidelines for classroom adaptations. It is important to remember that a student may have multiple disabilities that have to be taken into consideration. It should be stressed that the primary person with whom to work in making appropriate and/or necessary changes is the student with the disability. Some students may have disabilities that are not obvious when speaking with the student. Therefore, please do not assume that because you are not able to observe obvious signs of a person having a disability, that the student is not disabled. The fact that the student has a letter from SDR means that the student has submitted documentation and is officially registered with the University as having a disability.

Suggested Disability Announcement in Class

Arranging suitable adjustments involves a shared responsibility between the classroom instructor and the student. Students with disabilities are responsible for bringing their individual needs to the attention of the instructor as early as possible in the semester; however, students may be hesitant to make special requests. It is suggested that, early in the semester, instructors make a general announcement such as the one listed below:

"Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If anyone in this course has a disability, please contact Student Disability Resources located in room 116 Boucke Building or call at 863-1807(V/TTY). If you have further questions regarding this announcement, please make an appointment during my office hours."

Syllabus Statement

As per the Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures R-5 SYLLABUS, all University syllabi must include a disability statement modeled after the statement below.

Model Language for Syllabus Statement

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website:

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Since many students have disabilities not readily noticeable, this announcement or statement encourages students to identify their needs early in the semester so timely adaptations can be made.

Additional Information

For further information regarding academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services in higher education, please contact Student Disability Resources or refer to the following websites from the Department of Education: